Today in my quest to answer the almighty question of “What’s for dinner for my girls?”, I steered closer to more familiar Asian fares for their sake. The other night I introduced my girls to Mexican enchiladas with red sauce without much success. My hubby and I enjoyed the gooey, cheesy dish and our plates were quickly cleaned. Unfortunately, the poor girls couldn’t tolerate the smokiness of the chipotle flavor albeit it was rather mild. That’s okay! When first we don’t succeed, we’ll just keep trying.
A definite crowd pleaser for my girls is braised or grilled meats that’s savory, finger-licking, and slightly sweet. They also appreciate a side of their favorite veggies stir-fried. Broccoli, corn, and zucchini seems to be their current callings.
As such, I’m going to make a delicious, kid-friendly favorite – Korean Dak Bulgogi or chicken Bulgogi. This is Korean’s answer to BBQ chicken, an alternative to beef Bulgogi, which is thinly sliced, marinated beef that’s usually grilled. I love how the chicken, when cut into bite-size pieces are quickly marinated and cooked on the stovetop in no time at all. Although simple to prepare, this dish packs a great deal of flavor. I often resort to this recipe for easy weeknight cooking just to spare myself the insanity. I am no supermom! Entertaining 2 energetic babies, keeping them safe in the kitchen while cooking a “decently tasting” meal (without butchering my food in the process) is a true art form I have yet to master.
This chicken bulgogi recipe was adapted from Hyosun Ro’s beautiful and informative blog, Korean Bapsang. Her blog inspires me to cook more Korean food for my hubby, a native of Seoul, South Korea. I’ve since made several changes to suit my family’s needs and ever-changing palette such as doubling up on the ingredients to ensure leftovers. I’ve reduced the amount of sugar and sesame oil since my girls prefer just a hint of sweetness and a subtle smell of sesame oil. The smell and flavor of the sesame oil can be too overwhelming for them. I’ve also added a tiny bit of fish sauce. It’s my Vietnamese touch but it really adds an extra depth of flavor; kind of like the Italians using anchovies as a base for some of their pasta dishes but a typical diner would never noticed small anchovies were added given its subtlety after the cooking process. Occasionally, I’ll use Shaoxing rice wine or a decent Pinot Grigio in the marinade. It all depends on what I have available or in the mood for at that time. A must for me is adding chopped green onions and sliced shallots only because garlic, ginger, onions/shallots are included in just about everything that I cook for an additional flavor bump. I always pan-sear the chicken pieces in batches to achieve a caramelized crust on the chicken’s exterior. Only then will I add the marinade to the skillet and cook the chicken thoroughly. This allows me to still have a bit of sauce at the bottom of the skillet to drizzle on my girls’ bowls of steamed rice. It’s a favorite for them and thus, mandatory.
Tonight the girls ate chicken Bulgogi with their favorite, broccoli stir fried with garlic and a small bowl of piping hot jasmine steamed rice. Another answer to the almighty question conquered. One down, a million more to go!
Here’s my take on chicken bulgogi (adapted from Korean Bapsang).
Yields 6-8 servings, when served with 1-2 side dishes
2 – 2 1/2 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut into bite-size pieces
5 T light soy sauce
1.5 T fish sauce
2 T fresh lime juice (or lemon)
1.5 T brown sugar
1.5 T honey
2 T rice wine (Mirin, or decent dry white wine)
1 T sesame oil
2.5 T minced garlic
1 T minced ginger
freshly ground black pepper (6-7 turns on my pepper mill)
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 stalks of green onions, chopped into 1″ pieces, green and white parts separated (with white parts smashed flat with back of knife)
1 t toasted sesame seeds (optional)
1. Cut chicken into bite-size pieces. Set aside.
2. Prepare marinade: In a large mixing bowl, add fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, lime or lemon juice, sugar, wine, minced garlic, ginger, white part of green onions only), and freshly ground black pepper. Mix well to incorporate all ingredients, and dissolve the sugar.
3. Add chicken pieces to the bowl of marinade. With clean hands (plastic kitchen gloves comes in handy here), work marinade into chicken pieces until every piece is covered with marinade. Place into fridge for at least 30 minutes. I prefer at least 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours so marinade will really penetrate the chicken.
4. Preheat a large skillet on med/high heat. Drizzle some canola or vegetable oil and swirl to coat the skillet. Add half of the shallot slices to the oil. Let sizzle for 1 minute around the hot oil.
5. Add enough chicken pieces to cover bottom of skillet. Work in 2-3 batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding and risk steaming the chicken. Pan sear the chicken pieces until a brown, caramelized crust forms on the surface of the chicken. If necessary, reduce heat slightly to avoid burning chicken. Add another drizzle of canola oil, and flip chicken pieces over and pan-sear the opposite side. Remove and set aside in a bowl nearby skillet.
6. Repeat pan searing steps until all chicken pieces are browned. Return chicken and its juices from nearby bowl to the skillet. Drizzle marinade from mixing bowl over the chicken. Add sesame seeds (if using). Stir well. Lower heat to low-med, cover with lid for additional 3-5 minutes to ensure chicken is cooked through. Shut off heat. Toss chopped green onions on top of chicken. Serve hot with a side dish or two of choice.